Showing posts from 2012

Educating the IoT Generation

Sense Kit
The Internet of Things (IoT) is fast becoming a reality with ever increasing numbers of network connected devices that have on board processing capabilities being integrated into everyday objects. Additionally, the rise of cloud computing platforms have moved more of our data into the network, practically removing limits on data storage and offering new ways of using this data. A few years ago, colleagues at the Open University set about re-imagining how computing should be taught in the face of this radical shift in computing technology. The result was called 'My Digital Life' (TU100) and I was lucky enough to join the OU in time to be able to contribute to this effort. In particular I worked on the design of a digital interface board and programming language that would allow students to gain hands on experience with the Internet of Things, building their own IoT devices in their very first foray into learning computing. We called this platform Sense - comprising t…

Quick2Wire Interface Board

I dusted the cobwebs off my soldering iron today to build this interface board for my Raspberry Pi.  Designed by Quick2Wire (, the board simplifies the access to the GPIO and I2C pins of the Raspberry Pi, making it possible to integrate sensors and actuators into programs running on the device.  After constructing the board, I wrote a simple bash script to write to a pin (connected to a test LED on the board) and also read the state of another pin (connected to a push button switch).

My next step is to get the Quick2Wire Python API working so that I can try and writing my own programs that interact with the pins.  In the longer term, I am hoping to be able build a version that can be controlled using Sense (


Last week I had a fun day in London helping out at a special day school organised by the Open University in London to support students studying 'TU100 - My Digital Life'.  The focus of the day was to help students get started with programming activities using Sense.  My colleague Chris Douce has written an extensive blog post about the day, detailing the activities that took place through the day.

In brief, the morning involved a couple of excellent presentations from tutors, Tammy and Leslie, covering an introduction to program design (problem decomposition, basic program constructs, pseudocode specifications, etc) and a walk through of the Sense programming language and IDE.  In the afternoon, the students worked in small groups to build their own projects, which ranged from simple animations involving running stick men and Tom & Jerry, to games with aeroplanes dropping bombs on targets.  One of the teams built a really neat 'Etch-a-Sketch' application that used…

Adaptive Security and Privacy

My colleague, Prof. Bashar Nuseibeh, has been recently awarded a prestigious ERC Advanced Research grant, as well as a Royal Society-Wolfson Merit Award, to support research in the area of adaptive privacy and security.  As a co-Investigator on some of the previous projects in this area (PRiMMA and Microsoft Research SEIF), I am pleased to be part of the research team that will work on this research with Bashar and others.  To find out more about the research agenda, visit the Adaptive Security and Privacy project website.  On a related note, we are also starting a project on Adaptive Information Security for Cloud Computing, funded by the Qatar National Research Fund, which will involve collaborating with a research team based at Qatar University.

As result of all this activity, we are soon going to be starting the recruitment process for both post-doctoral researchers and PhD students who have an interest in working in the area of adaptive systems for privacy and security.  We exp…

Ready to represent STEM!

I am really excited to be registered as a STEM Ambassador. I was prompted to do this after the experience of running a hands-on programming workshop for school kids back in April and I am looking forward to doing similar activities in the future. Check my STEMnet profile page for more details:

Mobile East 2012 - See it, Shake it, Set it

I presented the above talk about research done as part of the PRiMMA project on studying privacy management for mobile applications at the Mobile East 2012 conference.  The following is the abstract of this talk:

As a result of advances in ubiquitous computing areas, and the widespread use of related technology in various applications, it is now possible to capture an unprecedented amount of information about people’s daily lives and use this information in various ways. Proponents of these developments argue that they will allow computer technologies to inform, entertain and assist us in ways that are more comfortable, intuitive and unobtrusive. On the other hand, it is argued that such pervasive data gathering is likely to cause serious invasions of individual privacy, potentially culminating in harm to individuals and society at large.  This talk reports on research that has been investigating users' experience of managing their privacy when using mobile applications as well as…

LinkedIn breach .. the multiplier effect

Last week's high profile theft of password for the business networking site LinkedIn has been a topic of many news articles and blogs in the computing and security area.  There was a particularly interesting discussion of the issue of developers not understanding the security implications of using fast hashing algorithms which are intended for high-speed, on the wire, integrity checking such as SHA, for secure storage of passwords.  The argument here is that password hashes should actually use more computationally demanding (i.e. slower) algorithms.  This would increase the cost to the attacker in conducting a brute force attack to identify the correct plain text to match the encrypted passwords in the stolen file(s).

The immediate countermeasure that was publicised through media and through social network 'word of mouth' was that people should change their LinkedIn password.  Of course this created the opportunity for phishing attackers (unrelated to those who stole the…

Understanding adaptive user interfaces

Modern enterprises are heavily dependent on computer systems that often have quite complex user interfaces.  Indeed studies on the effectiveness of enterprise software systems, such as customer relationship management or supply chain management systems, frequently find that usability is one of the main issues.  One of my PhD students, Pierre Akiki is investigating ways of improving this situation be devising a model-driven software framework that will enable adaptive user interfaces for enterprise applications, based on a combination of contextual parameters and user preferences (e.g., depending on the expertise level of the user).  As part of this work, he is conducting a survey of individuals' user interface preferences when undertaking a variety of common tasks.

You can find out more about his work on his webpage on Engineering Adaptive User Interfaces for Enterprise Applications.  You can help with the research by taking the survey linked above!

Teaching Network Security at a distance

I have been going to InfoSec Europe for the past couple of years (although missed it in 2012) where there was always a fair amount of interest from individuals who wanted to learn network security, part time and at a distance. This stimulated a discussion with colleagues to expand our post graduate offering in this area, and with the help of Andrew Smith (@teraknor) and Blaine Price, we were able to put together a 30 credit module that combined the CCNA Security and CISSP curricula - it's calledNetwork Security (T828). The graphic above shows how the module combines material covering different areas to provide coverage of a number of different commercial certifications whilst also being part of a post-graduate degree programme. It is taken from a presentation Andrew and I gave at the Virus Bulletin seminar, which was held at the OU in April.

We are just coming to the end of the first presentation and apart from some minor issues things have gone pretty smoothly.  One of our stude…

Cargo-bot - game to teach programming

A friend just posted a link to an iPad game called Cargo-bot, which requires players to program robots with the right sequence of instructions to manipulate stacks of cargo crates.  It's free and looks like a great way to introduce basic programming and algorithms.

The app has been built using Codea and looks pretty slick.  Definitely worth a look if you have an iPad. Thanks to Nat Pryce for sharing the original link

Bringing Sense into the classroom

When we (a team of us at the OU who worked on the module My Digital Life) developed the SenseBoard and adapted MIT's Scratch language as Sense to teach entry level programming, we had to develop activities that students could complete while studying at a distance and therefore not overly complicated (at least at first). In fact the approach we gave was to give students partially completed Sense programs and get them to add the missing elements. The overarching goal was to have students build interesting and above all fun projects right from the beginning. However, the programming guide that was written to introduce all of the basics (iteration, selection, variables, etc) was designed to be studied over a 1 week period and there didn't easily lend itself to delivery in a 1-day face to face workshop. It also didn't make much use of the SenseBoard as an I/O device.
Therefore when were approached with the idea of running a workshop together with UCL's Schools Outreach p…

Return to the blog ...

It's been an age since I have had the time to blog and this site had fallen by the wayside.  However, I find myself looking for a place to gather thoughts, share ideas and activities, so restarting the blog seems like a good idea.  The name 'Academic Marginalia' is inspired by those thoughts and ideas that one jots down about in the margins when reading something really stimulating.  The idea here is to reflect on my experiences as an academic, both in terms of teaching and research but also on wider issues that affect higher education and scientific enquiry.

Not sure how regularly I will get the chance to update, but will do my best to make regular (albeit sometimes brief!) postings.